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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Dawn Smithson
Safer Here
Kranky

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


October 18, 2005
"I may not be happy/At least I know I'm safer here," declares Smithson on this album's title track. She might as well be announcing her statement of purpose in this opener: all of these songs seem to take place in the "here" to which she runs, giving us ample opportunity to discover what's so alluring and comforting about Smithson's melancholy, enclosed space.

In a number of ways, Safer Here is ultimately about the struggle for control. It wouldn't be unfair to suggest that Smithson's refuge is a self-constructed haven, one in which she takes her crosses, leans them against one another and huddles underneath, shielding herself from the world in the shadows of the very burdens that make it such an intimidating place. In doing so, her safety begins to depend upon her frailty; without pain and tribulation, she has nothing to cling to. By making struggle her muse, she precludes any chance of achieving balance. Smithson forces herself to alternate between hiding under inscrutable sheets of grey and buckling beneath the weight of them, creating a tension in her songs between tight, frosty urban singer-songwriter fare a la Shannon Wright or Chris Brokaw and brittle, experimental wisps akin to Mark Hollis and His Name Is Alive.

Closer "Crossroads" defines the album's landscape as a moment in time: "So much is wasted/I can't look anymore/For fear I'll drown". Smithson's narratives occur in the wake of crushing romantic ("Nowhere Near") or political ("Letter to the Empire") disappointment, positioning her speakers in a sort of wasteland. The precise impressions she captures stem from the moment of complete disillusionment when these voices are no longer downtrodden from a specific event, but from a more overwhelming sense of loss that stands to cripple them.

"Ticking Away" gives us a concrete idea of what sorts of pressures arise in these instances. Smithson concedes, "Well I guess it's time to move" and the steady guitar strumming behind her vocals echoes this charge for progression, but the reverbed, dark crystal space inside the 4AD synth undertones seems to ask her to stop and recede into her own interior.

It's almost inevitable that she will retreat into the cavern of self, too, as the feelings of loss and lack of control appear insurmountable ("And though it's just beginning/My life is ticking away"). When she concludes by noting, "If I look away, it's gone," apathy, futility, and defeat bleed into one sensation, leaving an immense emotional weight rarely heard in delicate dream-folk.

If all of this sounds mortifyingly depressing and hopelessly gut-level, it is, by in large. Smithson's experience in Sunn O))) and Jessamine has taught her, however, that the power struggle between player and instrument is just as compelling as any an artist can create in vocal narratives; as a result, the interaction between music and voice is just as important to the songs as the lyrics. While Smithson's characters may find themselves unable to move or speak by each song's end, the narrative space they fill at least allows them an outlet for expression. The electronic textures just underneath Smithson's guitar, however, threaten to form a viscous sonic entity that will override the voice and essentially drown it. Not only must characters struggle to act, they must also fight to be heard. The album's noisy leanings never become full-on shoegaze ballasts, but they do form a distinct texture that draws attention away from Smithson's voice and asks human presence to play a negligible role in the songs. If we crawl inside these walls of sound with her, we will surely never lose our bearing.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan

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